Kneel!



I have a childhood memory of Grandad kneeling in his striped flannel pyjamas at his bedside saying his prayers. Those were the days when the reflexive response of a congregation to the liturgical command “Let us pray” was to instantly fall to its knees.

Like the American tourist in London overawed by the Tower and the Beefeaters, we didn’t think about it. When the tourist heard one uniformed Tower guard call to another, “Neil! Neil!”, he responded instantly as in church and fell to his knees.

In his diminished height in the kneeling position, in every folded part of his body, Grandad was demonstrating his belief that he was in the presence of One far greater than himself. To bend before such a One is the only way to dare to enter into conversation with the Eternal One.

The Usher sings in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury, “Silence in Court, and all attention lend. Behold your Judge! In due submission bend!”

More telling for us Christians is the Biblical example. The Hebrew word “shachah” means “to bow down” and implies kneeling and touching the ground with the forehead. Abraham, Moses and many others “bow down” at least 172 times. In the New Testament, the Greek word for “I bow down” is “proskuneo”. It means literally, “I kiss, like a dog licking its master’s hand”, and occurs 60 times in the New Testament. The people of God expect to bow down, to show loving submission to their God.  

We, as a church, have made considered decisions over the past 30 years to abolish kneeling. We have decided to stand as the redeemed people of Christ to hear the Words of Institution during the Eucharist. In many churches, altar rails have been removed to open the space and to encourage people to receive communion standing. These decisions are now inscribed as rubrics in our modern Prayer Books.

What we do in church and in ritual prayers at home is drill or repetitive training. And in those days when we knelt, we were training our bodies, minds and souls to enter the presence of God with adoration, awe and humility.

By standing where we used to kneel, we now train ourselves to stand upright, taking on the posture of people who are not bound and folded up in sin but forgiven and free. I think these changes are a nett gain to us.

What we do in church changes and evolves to meet the needs of today’s Christians. But we have lost much. We must be a people who can bend in the presence of the Almighty. However earnestly I may plead, I doubt habitual kneeling will be restored to general liturgical practice. In any case, I can no longer physically kneel, and as the church ages, there will be many like me.

But I suggest four changes to church we can make:

  1. To be aware of kneeling as a proper liturgical posture, and to ask ourselves when kneeling is appropriate.
  2. To kneel before and after Communion and before and after the service to mark those times of prayer.
  3. To choose to kneel on occasion to receive Holy Communion to express humility.
  4. For leaders to never say, “Sit for the prayers”, but allow people to kneel by instructing, “Kneel or sit for the prayers as you are comfortable”.

And at home review our posture for our own individual praying. Should we always be relaxed and comfortable in an armchair? Are there times when kneeling is the best posture, like my Grandad at the bedside before we commend ourselves to God’s keeping while we sleep?

Sing for your faith


1462742661-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_Keith and Kristyn Getty, Sing! How Worship Transforms your Life, Family and Church, Nashville TN: B&H Books, 2017. 176 pages hardback.

ISBN:  9781462742660. Not yet in Public Libraries.
Online $15 second-hand, $17 new. (My second-hand copy in new condition cost $7)

Reviewed by Ted Witham

What an encouragement to be told that Christians must sing: for the Gettys, congregational singing is both privilege and obligation. They point to many places in the Bible where we are commanded to sing, and, while conceding a place in worship for song as performance, their focus in Sing! is on the central place of congregational singing.

The Gettys make a living from writing and performing songs and encouraging the Body of Christ in music. Many of us have sung their In Christ Alone, an example of a singable melody and strong Biblical content. The chapter headings of Sing! assert that we are created to sing, commanded to sing and compelled to sing. We are to sing with heart and mind, with our family and with our local church. They write of the radical witness when congregations sing, and in a series of ‘bonus tracks’ provide checklists for pastors and elders, for worship and song leaders, for musicians and for songwriters and ‘creatives’.

Each chapter is followed by questions for reflection or discussion in a study group. Sing! would work well as a book club discussion, or a study for the whole congregation.

Sing! invites Christians to consider the first principles of congregational singing. It critiques performances that do not help the congregation to sing. The Gettys affirm the wisdom of a familiar repertoire, limiting the number of new songs and hymns.

In many congregations the idea that singing is compulsory will be controversial. As a musician and priest, however, I am pleased that the case for singing is put so strongly. How much stronger in faith singing congregations can be. How much stronger in faith are families and individuals who sing or listen to the songs and hymns they have sung in church on Sunday. And how much joy is evoked by the beauty and artistry of good music and poetry.

Sing! is not primarily for pastors and worship leaders. They don’t need convincing. A resource for all Christians Sing! will encourage all of us to sing more heartily.

Sing a new song to the Lord


Hymns – traditional hymns – have sculpted my theological and spiritual landscape. I’m happy to worship with Dan Schutte (“Holy Darkness‘), Graham McKendrick (‘Beauty for Brokenness’), George Bullock (‘The Power of Your Love‘), and all the other contemporary praise-singers, but they have not dripped steadily, obsessively and repetitively into my heart over 60 and more years as hymns have done.

There was a time in my life when I knew the number of every hymn in Hymns Ancient & Modern Revised. If I saw the number 372 on a bus or number plate, I would immediately think ‘Almighty, Invisible, God only Wise’, and often involuntarily blurt it out – to the amusement of friends.

Many hymns have been with me since childhood. I remember beefing out ‘For Those in Peril on the Sea’ (A&MR 165) at Tambellup Primary School Anzac Day services, and singing – very slowly, with my Mum on the harmonium, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ (A&MR 160) in the little church of St Mary in Tambellup.

But there are other hymns that I remember by the person who introduced me to them: Irvin Phillips, organist extraordinaire at St Matthew’s, Armadale, thought my repertoire was incomplete without the tune ’Lucius’ and the lovely words of community that accompany it: ‘All praise to our redeeming Lord, // who joins us by his grace, // and bids us, each to each restored, // together seek his face.’ (TiS 442(i)).

David Overington, my mentor in the Franciscan Third Order, was surprised I did not know the tune ‘Blaenwern’. Together in Song suggests that we should sing ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ to ‘Blaenwern’,(TiS 590) and, David was right, it adds a depth to that old crusade song that you don’t find with the usual tunes. David also recommended singing ‘Once to every man and nation // comes the moment to decide’ to this tune; and it certainly gives the words a drive towards decision that the curly Welsh tune ‘Ton y Botel’ lacks.

Michael Pennington, Rector of Applecross when I was his curate, introduced me to Samuel Stanley’s great hymn of re-dedication: ‘O thou who camest from above // the pure celestial fire to impart…’ Michael chose it for the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, now 15 years ago. It deeply touched my own determination to continue as a priest, offering my life as a sacrifice and knowing that service brings its own reward. ‘Still let me guard the holy fire,// and still stir up the gift in me, // ready for all thy perfect will.’ (TiS 527)

I probably will never know the depth of spirituality that hymns have given me. I will continue to explore new worship music, and I will try to give new life, by giving new words, to old tunes. But it is the old hymns I credit with sustaining my faith through difficulties (‘Great is your faithfulness,’ – TiS 154) and joys (‘Hail thee festival day’, or ‘Christians, lift up your hearts’ in TiS – 423).

May the Lord grant me the joy of continuing to sing hymns; I do hope that they will be one of the options for praise in the eternal worship of the saints.

Emerging Butterfly?


Peter Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God, Paraclete Press 2006. E-Book 2012

Reviewed by

Ted Witham

The key idea of How (Not) to Speak of God is that many Christians in the “Emergent Church” movement embrace paradox. The first few chapters unpack the implicit idea in the title: that the moment we speak of God, we deny who God is. All attempts to define or describe the Christian God are doomed.

This is, of course, not a new idea, but it is unusual for evangelical Christians to push the point as hard as Rollins does. Essentially, Christians are atheists, because our God is beyond human category. At best, we can glimpse God in icons which often appear to point away from the reality of God, but which express metaphors that are self-consciously metaphors and not definitions.

Christians are defined not so much by what they believe as by how they believe; and this dynamic faith will manifest in works of mercy and restorative justice in the real world.

The second part of this encouraging book is a series of liturgies designed by the house church in the Menagerie Bar, the pub that Rollins calls his spiritual home. The themes range from Judas to Corpus Christi to Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani. The description of each liturgy is preceded by a reflection introducing the theme. The liturgies emphasise imagination and emotion and are described in practical detail, so that readers could use them as they are, or adapt them for their own setting.

If this is the coming, emerging church, then I would not mind belonging.